I HAD THE PLEASURE of speaking with my friend and former supervisor, M., yesterday afternoon. She had some downtime between stages of her final grad-school project work, and we chatted for well over an hour. I miss being able to holler over the cube wall at her.
We discussed a wide range of topics, but the central theme was employment. I have no doubt that she can find work after she graduates. The question is whether it will pay remotely what she is worth. She told me how the salaries today compare to those her friends and classmates were able to snag 10 years ago, and it's a grim comparison.
Both of us could pick up a junior job in some publishing, advertising, or other shop where we could lay out pages, retouch art, and the like — similar to the job I probably could have taken in my first week — but is that the best thing for me right now? I'm no graphic designer. I'm just a page monkey. I understand typography, page layout, the needs of a printer, and how to work fast fast fast with complex work. I have no formal art or design training, I can't tell you anything about color theory, I don't have a historical understanding of graphic design history, and I have no experience outside of periodicals. I am way behind even undergraduate design majors in these respects. This is not to say I can't make an attractive book or magazine. It's just that employers want designers to do more than this . . . and for less.
M. agreed with the self-analysis I offered above, in somewhat different form. I asked her rhetorically if I really ought to take the time to continue at my present level in a design/layout/typesetting position, paying as much or (probably) less than my last salary, work two or three years, learn the software and techniques that I would need to become a full designer, and hope by then I could qualify for the magic "X to Y years of experience in [specialty] design" I see in the ads . . . or start at the absolute ground level in a new field whose focus is closer to my truest, most devoted talent, gain experience, get paid nothing for quite a while, but take a shot at aligning my passion with my career, no matter the cost. Is it worth changing jobs, even careers, and grind my way along for a couple of years, at an age when hiring managers expect candidates to be in senior positions or at least on track toward same, and yet reap the reward of full career satisfaction?
This post comes to mind.
I may be on the threshold of a complete transformation. When I changed jobs in 1999, the functions were different, but it was still editing, still typesetting, and even still training, what with my inept boss at the time. If my hunch is correct, I may need to spend the next several months going in a very different direction than I had been. Even "going" is a stronger stance than the one I had taken at my last position, which was largely stasis. Standing still.
Standing still is for statues. Right now I need to move. Let them build my statues when they capture me accurately — after I'm dead.